Good Girl vs Bad AI – Sandra

Sandra – Cover Art

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This will be a short review, for although much has been said in the press about this new podcast by Gimlet, it did not deserve much being said about it.

Sandra, the new-age personal assitant AI, run by a company out of some unknown small town. One naturally expects it to be some kind of preachy tale at heart in which the terrors of an omnipresent AI are made clear to the audience. After all, it is sponsored by Mozilla.

Sandra exists in the form of a small black box. It can only listen and then talk, it cannot "see". Its common for Sandra to ask people to describe the things around them in order to get a better answer. At the same time it is absolutely normal for Sandra to openly discuss people's browser histories.

But its a scam. People think they are talking to a computer, but actually its a call center. The story follows Helen, who is the new recruit in the war room where Sandra is run. She has been drafted to "Birds", which means she's part of a corp that answers queries of people relating to birds. It isn't clear what kind of dashboard these call center employees use. They can pull up anyone's browsing history, that much is clear, and probably look up things on a search engine. Probably, there is an AI-driven screen making suggestions.

Helen, the protagonist, loves her new job, she agrees with her boss how she is basically getting paid for helping people solve their problems everyday, the best job anyone could get. In episode 4, her co-worker Nyea disagrees, who is of the opinion that they are just suckling overgrown kids into overdependence. This is briefly after Helen has "converted" an old-sounding bus-driver into buying into this technology.

The point is, the poeple may think they are getting expert advice when in fact they are getting advice from strangers, who in turn piece together their advice from the Internet.

Helen is egged on by her boss to follow her instincts and be more human. When her stupidity leads to potential havoc, the management admonishes her and throws her to the SHARCS – the customer service team, where instead of getting paid for helping people, she tells them they are stupid.

The series is seven episodes long. There is no plot. Its just a few random days in the life of a call centre employee in the not-so-distant future, infact in the almost-present. The story leads nowhere, nor does it make any effort to reach somewhere. There are no moral dilemmas or internal struggles faced by any of the characters that could be considered as a stand-in for plot. The creators of this show should give a thought an important question: Why would anyone want to listen to this?

The show has been topping trends all over the Podcast-world just because of the cast, the advertising push and because of positive "reviews" it has been getting on popular online media publications.